Sheila Brooks
Founder, President, and CEO, SRB Productions

I was asked to speak about my success as a woman entrepreneur. I want to begin by saying that I owe everything that I do, everything that I have hoped to be in all of my years, to my mother. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, this woman worked very, very hard. She worked two jobs all of her life to raise her children. She avoided the welfare world and said, “I have to work, even if I have to work two full-time jobs to survive.” And that’s what she did. So that’s another reason why it is important for me to be part of this forum today. One of the things she always told us was to live our dreams, no matter how little we had. And that instilled a sense of value, a sense of self-esteem in my sister and me. I think what she did for us is one of the most important reasons for my success today.

I always was interested in reporting and writing and spent more than 15 years as a television news reporter and anchor in cities across the country, from Seattle to Dallas. My last stop was here in Washington about 10 years ago. Like so many women, I decided I had hit the glass ceiling and it was time to go. So I took those experiences and that expertise and I said, “I’m going to start my own business.” My journalist colleagues just smiled and said, “Sure you will.” Now, 10 years later, I own a television and video production company and post-production facility. We have contracts with the federal government, major corporations, and national non-profits. It is because of significant women in my life-not only my mother, but the National Association of Women Business Owners, a colleague of mine who’s going to speak today, Kathleen Diamond, and other women across this country that make myself and my business a success. So hats off to what your organization is doing! Keep up the good work.

Meredith Munger-Leyva
Vice President, Fleishman-Hillard, Washington, D.C.

I’m here to tell you that meritocracy is alive and well in corporate America. Never before have women achieved so much on their own merit. Corporations are desperate for talent. They’re implementing new perks to attract and recruit women every day. Let’s face it. Day care is not targeted toward men. And, frankly, neither is telecommuting, although men may benefit from that. The advent of online MBA programs from such renowned schools as Duke University is an attempt to recruit and retain busy mothers who want to grow into management roles while still caring for their kids. To women in corporate America, these so-called perks are sometimes more valuable than salary income for those who are striving to raise their families, maintain healthy personal relationships, and still grow and prosper professionally. Simply put, there is no better place than corporate America for women to challenge themselves professionally today.

Frankly I find the idea of mandating pay schedules truly insulting. Radical feminists are telling women that they are not capable of competing with men. Instead of telling women about the importance of lifelong learning, they are telling women that the government will take care of them. And that is offensive to women like me and my colleagues who have made it on our own brains, blood, sweat, and tears. Instead of telling women about the trade-offs in life we make and giving women the educational tools to consider how to deal with these trade-offs, special interest groups are telling women that they are not responsible for taking charge of their careers. Ladies, let me tell you. You are responsible for taking charge of your career. Successful women in corporate America know that.

An even worse effect of mandating pay schedules for women is that it would needlessly result in harming corporate shareholders, 45 percent of whom are women. Mandating pay levels would massively inflate the operating costs of most companies and drive their stock values way down. Of course, understanding this concept would mean having financial sense, and radical feminists just do not have any financial sense. In fact, pay equity is one of the silliest schemes ever concocted. And that’s a shame, because silly ideas like this sully the real competence that women have in the professional world and discount the incredible value that women are bringing to corporate America.

Kathleen Diamond
Founder and CEO, Language Learning Enterprises

Success is a tricky word for me. I don’t know what it is. I just am what I am, doing what I know how to do. And that is to make decisions, not all good ones, sometimes very bad ones; but I make decisions and I make a lot of them. And I’ve learned how to do that. I didn’t start out knowing how to do that, but I’ve learned how to do it.

My story is really a very simple one, but it is centered around the issue of what women are paid. In 1979, I came downtown and interviewed with the leading commercial language company. They were very thrilled to have me in front of them. I speak Spanish and French and English rather well, and they felt that they could put me on their payroll as a teacher right away. I had my master’s degree at this point, two babies at home, and I was looking for something other than the Ph.D. route. I thought, “This will be great. I’ll teach at this commercial language school and get experience.”

The gentleman interviewer asked me, “Are you ready to go?” And I said, “Yes. Would it be inappropriate to ask what you’re planning on compensating me for this great skill of mine?” He looked at me across the desk and lowered his eyes and said, “Well, it will be $4.80 an hour.” It was 1979. At the time I knew that the company was billing clients $25.00 an hour, and somehow my mind clicked, and I felt a sort of strange fury. I don’t really know what happened to me, but it made me into a monster. It made me into an entrepreneur. I went home that night and I’ve never looked back.

Last October, a journalist from the Mainichi Daily News came into my office and interviewed me on the subject of the glass ceiling. What does it mean? How are women in America treated? Can you explain this concept to me, a Japanese man? I did my best. Three weeks ago, I got an email from a gentleman in Tokyo who said, “I read the article in the Mainichi Daily News. I’m going to be in Washington, DC, tomorrow. Will you see me?” I emailed back, “of course.” He came in with his interpreter, and it was a very difficult session. It was hard to understand what he was trying to communicate, but I had the sense that he wanted to do a business deal. At the end of the interview, he changed tone, he changed his body language, and I could tell that he wanted to say something to me personally. The interpreter was uncomfortable but the words came out fast. He blurted out, “Mr. ____ says he appreciates the power of a woman.” I didn’t hesitate and I looked at him straight in the eye and I said, “Mr. ____ , I appreciate the power of a man.”